How much trouble is a watermaker? Would you take one as a gift? - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 23 Old 01-28-2012 Thread Starter
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How much trouble is a watermaker? Would you take one as a gift?

I've been tossing around the idea of building a watermaker. It doesn't look too difficult, and the (non-membrane) parts are not too expensive. Most RO systems are custom built for industrial purposes anyway and DOW Chemical is nice enough to provide plans online.

My question is: how much trouble are they once you have them? Another way to phrase the question might be, would you take one as a gift?

I hear horror stories of constantly flushing, pickling, and destroying membrane after membrane only to find that the stored $pare membranes died in storage.

On the other hand, my only experience with them was on a friend's powerboat and while I did see him flush it after each use, I never saw him do anything else with it and it worked flawlessly for the 5 years or so that I was boating with him.

From those that have experience with them, how much trouble are they?

MedSailor

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post #2 of 23 Old 01-28-2012
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Ours has been reliable and certainly worth having. We don't use it constantly but when we need it. It does take up considerable room and ours is 110v so we have to start the genset. Overall a plus.
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post #3 of 23 Old 01-28-2012 Thread Starter
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I definitely have the room. Seems like a nice thing to do with the space that was once taken up with the holding tank. Yay composting toilet!

How often do you flush/pickle it? What other maintenance do you do? How long have your membranes lasted?

Med

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post #4 of 23 Old 01-28-2012
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If its used often (every 2-3 days) and has a clean source of input water, then pickling it isn't really necessary. Its when you start putting it away for weeks or months on end or are using it with dirty or sediment laden input water, then you get in trouble. I'd invest in pickling supplies because I'd imagine when you're in a marina or at anchor, the watermaker isn't going to get much use. Or, I'd be investing in some serious pre-filtering capability.

Also, dont trivialize the complexity of these systems. The high pressure pumps are expensive and a ruptured gasket or seal here would pump brine at high pressure *EVERYWHERE*. The motors gobble up amperage and require a genset to get decent level of output.

The flipside is investing in one of those 12v Katahdin/PUR water makers. Piddly output but could run off of solar and a decent battery bank...

S/V Jendai
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post #5 of 23 Old 01-28-2012
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Spectra Ventura 150, draws about 10 amps and makes 6 gal per hour.

We've had ours for the past three years. I've pickled it once during a 6 month layup in Mexico. Apart from that we've run or back-flushed a minimum of once a week which is an inconvenience if leaving the boat for more then a week.

The only problem we had was when, just before leaving Hawaii, the high pressure pump stopped working. When I opened things up to have a look I found the compartment (under a settee) covered in a fine film of salt and brine. I panicked and ordered a new pump but once I took the old one apart and cleaned things up, it started working again. That's when I realized that one of the pipes was leaking slightly and spraying salt water. Once I tightened the fitting all was well.

Wouldn't leave home without it but now I check for leaks every month or so as per the owners manual.

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Last edited by mikefossl; 01-28-2012 at 11:20 PM.
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post #6 of 23 Old 01-28-2012
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Our friends who just did 3 seasons in Mexico would say that was the best thing they put on board before leaving.. but it was not a 'set it and forget it' situation and it did give them some grief on occasion. I guess like so many things it's another trade-off.

Ron

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post #7 of 23 Old 01-29-2012
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I work in the wastewater industry, and we build ROs for both potable water and wastewater. I'm at a jobsite in California right now, but when I return I'll be designing two ROs for a job we just got.

All membrane systems get cleaned occasionally, potable water ROs can go a year if they have good prefiltering and are run continuously. Wastewater ROs get cleaned as often as once a week! So we have coming experts in the cleaning process. Typically you clean first with a caustic (low pH) cleaner to remove organic foulants, then with an acid cleaner that removes salts. This isn't pickling, which is just preserving the membrane for storage using something like Sodium Metabisufite. The preserving is done to prevent bacteria from growing and fouling the membrane irreversibly.

It appears to me that most boat systems are not really set up for cleaning, only for pickling. However if I built one for my boat I'd include a cleaning capability. That involves providing a cleaning tank (bucket) and a couple of extra valves so you can circulate the cleaning chemicals. You may never need it. However suck up some oily water in a dirty harbor and you'll be very glad you can clean it.

Taken care of the membranes can last 10 years. Prices are dropping like a rock too. We replaced some RO membranes recently and the cost went from $500 a module 5 years ago to $300 today.

Gary H. Lucas
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post #8 of 23 Old 01-29-2012
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You can build your own, but the high pressure pump and motor to drive it won’t be cheap. Bigger question is do you really need an onboard source of water? In most of the cruising I’ve done I’ve ended up pickling the watermaker and sourcing water from ashore. The only times the waster maker has been really valuable was when we were at anchor for long periods or in areas where water wasn’t easily available. Keeping the system “clean” is a hassle unless you use it every day or two. This is particularly true if you do a DIY system, which is unlikely to have automated flushing, etc.
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post #9 of 23 Old 01-29-2012
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If you need it, it's worth the trouble. If you don't need one, why bother?

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post #10 of 23 Old 01-29-2012
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I have not installed one yet for reasons referred to above. Since we spend most of our time in marinas or anchorages, the intake water supply is not suitable for a water maker. They require fairly clean salt water. When we go cruising, we can carry 10 comfortable days of water, so that limits the need further. We are never more than a week from a marina.

I will install one when we start heading south for the winter, as I will want the flexibility to do laundry aboard and not have to time marina landings. I also think that a 12v system is important, as there are many ways to make 12v (genset, engine, solar, wind) but few to make 110v. Until then, it would stay pickled almost all the time. In fact, I would say that 90% of watermakers I've seen on boats for sale were either inoperative or pickled. That says something.

Would I take one for free? Sure.

Would I install it? Not until I actually need it.


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